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The first days of Xinjiang.
Nick Kohn bike touring through Asia and writing stories for Kook Exchange as he goes. More stories can be found HERE
The contrast of security at the Chinese/Mongolian border was almost laughable. The Mongolian security, while present, is definitely more lax than most borders I’ve crossed. China, on the other hand looks as if they’re ready for invasion. Razor wire atop electric fences, cameras on swivels on every building, guards armed with riot shield and clubs. The crossing took about four hours which was actually faster than expected. On the fourth time unpacking my bags, the customs officer spoke English. After a good chat, I asked why it was necessary to go through the same bags four times? Why could it not be communicated that they had been checked and I just pass on through. The response – ‘Bro, you are in China now. Things here don’t make sense to most Chinese people so you’re going to be very confused a lot of the time.’ He wasn’t wrong.
As I passed through the border town, I noticed the maximum-security-prison-like precautions at each shop. Every single one had a guard (often an old man or middle aged woman) armed with a wooden bedpost (as a club), a metal detector wand and a riot shield… For a convenience or grocery store.
Next, is the checkpoints. I had heard and read that they were very regular and got quite annoying but I completely underestimated it. I go through one to four of these checks per day, each one asking the same questions. There is never anyone that speaks English so everything occurs through translation apps. Sometimes the experience will go for 20 minutes, other times it’ll be four hours, depending on how many officers interview me, who wants photos and whether my bags get searched.
On my third day in Xinjiang, I was sat outside a phone store using their internet. Suddenly, what sounded like a WWII air raid siren started screeching. All around me, doors slammed shut and everyone from little old ladies to burly young men came rushing out to the streets, yielding weapons of all sorts. Some lined the roads and others blocked junctions with vehicles. When they were ready, they stood at attention, like a platoon of soldiers, clubs, spears, metal rods and wooden shields by their sides. By this stage, the ever present police had set up. Leaders began barking commands, patriotically under the flapping Chinese flags on each and every shop front. In unison, they began to practice offensive movements, stabbing, slashing and swinging their tools in the air, like a military bayonet fighting training exercise. Meanwhile, I sat there, sipping on my tea on the front steps of the store, stunned. Over the coming weeks, this would prove to be almost a daily occurrence.
As for the riding itself, it was a bloody pleasant change to finally be on some tarmac. While I love the dirt and being off the beaten track, the road is much easier on the wrists and bum and means more kilometres can be cranked out in a day. The landscape was, as expected, very similar to Mongolia for the first few days. Extensive sandy plains with long hills. Foliage was minimal and the only animals were camels, goats and birds of prey soaring overhead. But the silky smooth tarmac kept my mind off the sore legs and brutal heat, by maintaining high stoke levels each time I checked the speedo. Just days earlier, I was managing a measly 25-40km er day through the desert sands, now I was smashing 80km as a minimum. With morale high and winds low, the k’s began to rise. A personal best on one day of 125.8km was beaten the next with 127.9km, both of which I was massively proud of, particularly with the bike weighing almost 60kg and not coming from a cycling background.
Due to the high security and intense police presence, I was left to sleep in some pretty dull spots. A patch of dirt between a pig-infested cornfield and a tip would rate as the least pleasant and worst smelling of the trip thus far, and a brand new drain under an unopened section of highway was the nicest. Like I said, pretty grim.
The riding got really interesting as I entered an unexpected geological research park, where some of the biggest dinosaurs fossils in the world have been found. This was especially cool as I’d just finished reading Jurassic Park and was full froth on stuff like this. A section of the area was called the ‘Sulphur Valley:’ Here, the mountains looked like they’d been shaded with watercolours. Colours varied from light red to maroon, tan to purple to green, depending on the mineral make up of that section. Unfortunately, as with so many things in China, high fences left me too far distant to be able to snap a good picture of this natural beauty.
I went to commence my ride from Urumqi (capital of Xinjiang Province) on the G216, a notoriously long, well-paved section of highway that goes through many beautiful spots of north-western China, to Kashgar, the last big city before Kyrgyzstan. G216 was a section I was really looking forward to, particularly after hearing reviews from a group of motorcyclists that I’d seen near the Mongolian border. I was 60km in within half a day, feeling pretty pleased with the distance covered, when the police pulled me over for a passport check. They didn’t speak a word of English so I got the solar panel out and started charging batteries, figuring I’d be waiting for a while. After 45 minutes, an English-speaking officer arrived and said ‘you cannot pass!’ in a very authoritarian voice. I couldn’t help but giggle – one word changed and he could have been Gandalf. I stopped laughing to myself when I realised what he said. His English seemed to disappear when he tried to explain, so he rubbed his arms as if he was cold, pointed to the road then broke a stick and shook his head to say no. It took another 30 minutes to communicate the the local glacier had broken apart and caused major damage to the road, only two days ago. There’s some global warming for you! He explained that the road will not be ready ‘for one to two years so maybe find a different path to travel.’ Still keen to ride this highway, I said I was going to try regardless. His response was to bring out his handcuffs and say ‘for safety, you no go.’ Suddenly, his advice seemed like the right choice to take.
Early the next morning, I was riding S101 – the heaps more gnarly mountain road that lead in a similar direction to G216. I also picked this option because a local told me 101 is pronounced ‘yo-lei-yo’ in Manderin and I thought it sounded cool. Judging by the map, there wasn’t a whole lot out that way so I stocked up on food, water and fuel for the stove. Due to being a ‘dangerous good’, fuel took three hours to fill my 800ml bottle and required a ‘SWAT’ officer to come down to the razor wire surrounded station, with tyre popping spikes, a barricade that could stop a B-Double and three armed guards out front (this is the norm in Xinjiang) to help out.
The road lead me back through the geological park, where landscapes were beautiful yet brutal and the climbs, while not too severe, were seemingly never ending. It was ruthlessly hot and the locals in their nice air conditioned cars must have felt sorry for me because they kept stopping to give me food and water. In the 50km from town, I gathered up a watermelon, rock melon, a loaf of bread and about half a kilo of tofu, along with some water. I almost felt silly for being surprised when David, the English speaking cop at the next checkpoint told me this road was not passable by bike. He said there were big hills and rough roads, to which I let him know I’d just ridden through Mongolia so neither of those would be a major problem. He got me nervous when he said ‘the wolves will rip your legs off’ – complete with gestures and some pretty hilarious snarling and teeth showing. I’m unsure if wolves are out there but he sure got me thinking – I quite like riding bikes and legs are necessary for that hobby so I best not go losing them.
He paired me up with a middle age cyclist that just happened to be passing through. Mr Chan, as I was advised to call him, was a chubby but jolly man who seemed like he was in a bit of trouble with the missus back home. Hence, he had jumped on his brand new Merida mountain bike to see how far he could ride. The poor bloke almost fell over when he got out of the saddle to meet me because his legs were so buggered. The old fella must have been in the dog house big tim. From my understanding, the cops had organised for Mr Chan to show me an alternate route tomorrow after I stayed the night at his place – apparently he felt sorry for me because I was so dirty and was eating raw tofu with cinnamon while riding (it’s really tasty, give it a go).
We got riding in the opposite direction to what I had intended, going very quickly downhill in the bucketing rain, after I’d just spent the last few days coming up. Happiness was restored when riding past a farm and my new friend pointed to a pig then twisted his hands as if to flip food on a BBQ and rubbed his tummy. Can’t be sad with pork for dinner! After 60km of super fun and winding downhill with almost no one else on the road (understandably, the rain was borderline ridiculous at this stage), we got to his home town, where instead of taking me to his house for this BBQ I could already taste, he took me to the police station, shook my hand and rode away. Sly dog.
Harry Major, a friend of Kook in NZ is also bag maker – Wizard Works and has made a drop of bags on our door (via courier). You can find them here – and we asked him some very in-depth product questions below.
SO you like sewing? Thats cool…what do you like so much about it?
It’s a creative outlet, something my mind can obsess about when I’m riding my bike, or tying my shoelaces. Sewing is an aesthetic thing, but it’s also problem solving and engineering. I like having an idea and then working out how to make it. Its not just that sewing involves making a 3D thing out of flat pieces of fabric, but also that the order you sew things is vital. Once you’ve sewn a seam it becomes impossible to sew certain others.
What is your most favourite thing to sew?
I make bags for bikes and sometimes bags for humans, and honestly my favourite things are the squarest. Squares are great.
Where do you get your colour inspiration from? Is fabric hard to find?
One of the big reasons I wanted to start making bike bags was how bland everything was. Colour and patterns are so much fun. We are seeing some really cool stock bikes coming out with great colours, things like the Electric Queen, and yet all the mainstream bags are black or camo or grey. I really wanted to get some faux 80s rave culture in my work. What I soon realised was sourcing out-there fabrics in the right kind of material is pretty tough. However being able to track down that splatter Cordura was sort of the beginning of everything.
Is it worth your time?
What does the future hold for your bags?
A website, and greater availability.
Are they any good?
Yes, absolutely. I’d never want to let something shoddy or flawed get into someones hands.
Can I have one?
Sure. Until the forthcoming site is up and running, you’ll have to make do with instagram; @wizard.works
What bags you most proud of?
The Basket Bag. I’ve been making a version of this since 2015, it was the first thing I wanted to make. The current finalised design does exactly what I want from a basket bag, easy on easy into. Its simple but full of features that make it unlike anything out there.
Whats the best trip you’ve been on?
Hmmm, they’ve all been great. The best riding is hands down The Old Ghost Road track in the south Island of New Zealand. The country I remember most fondly is Taiwan. The Best food was Malaysia. The time the field we were sleeping in was set on fire was Cambodia.
Send us pics of bags that didn’t quite work out?
I think everything starts out not working out, and through testing starts to work good. The panniers I made look cool, function pretty cool, but there a few killer design flaws in their construction that meant when I was testing them out on a three month tour in America I had to sew them back together every week or two.
I stayed at Achit Nuurfor two and a bit days total. It was incredibly relaxing to be able to sit and do absolutely nothing, though, simultaneously I was losing my mind. I wasn’t going crazy because I had temporarily stopped riding, but rather that the bugs were insane and the wind wouldn’t cease for a moment. It got so gnarly that, even after setting up protected on two sides, the gust changed direction and completely flattened my previously pitched tent.
I spent time sitting, reading, watching nature and observing a very angry Kazakh man slam on the breaks to an abandoned, locked up house, break the lock off and repossess everything inside. As he was finishing up, the locals became to trot over on horseback. When trying to make for a quick escape, the Kazakh’s crank-start, Soviet era van/Ute combination wouldn’t turnover. I was glad to be distanced, in the comfort of my tent, under a goat barn – protected from the elements.
The day after, I woke to a windless morning. Stoked, I packed up and hit the road. Within the first two kilometres, I heard the sounds of very distressed animals coming from a ger. I assumed they were slaughtering an animal for food but then saw they were going through the painstaking process of removing the thick winter wool from the sheep – this would be a significant portion of their income for the coming months. I was invited over for tea, snacks and to watch the almost tortrous process of a hand-sized rake getting dragged through the dense wool, til it tore off the skin.
These people kept shaking their head, gesturing ‘no’ then pointing to my intended direction of travel. I laughed and gave them a thumbs up, confident in my ability to look after myself. My gosh, was I wrong. The next 48-72hrs were some of the hardest of my life.
Before long, I was exhausted, but knew there was a town where I could resupply my food stocks about 20km away so i kept plodding along. Out of nowhere in the middle of the desert a young boy appeared on a motorbike. He looked hardy, with red cheeks and eyes that squinted even when they were opened. He saw I was struggling so he showed me the direction of his ger. Within the next hour and a half i drank eight cups of tea and three bowls of noodles. They even bought their goat inside for me to pat while I ate and drank.
The village I had planned on resupplying at was a real ghost town. Of the many shops only two were opened, the servos all abandoned and even the police station had no one in there. With only about one day’s worth of fuel for the stove, and at least a two and half day ride to the next town, I got moving. I was less than excited to find the road to Bayannuur was ankle high sand.
By now my legs were exhausted from needing to push the 60 kg bike and I knew that pain wasn’t ending any time soon. After about an hour and a half, a construction truck came past and I double checked my directions with them. They informed me that the alternate route to what i chosen was easier despite double the climbing and 50 kilometres more distance. I understood they were going to a town about 80 kilometres up the road. Pretty good considering I only needed to go 180km. They offered me a lift, so in addition to the five guys on the two seats up front, four in the back and the giant excavator shovel that was barely strapped to the tray, I loaded Tania up and climbed onto the rickety and rusted Chinese truck. The ride was rough – everyone and everything – including the two ton shovel, was bouncing around with the corrugations of the road.
As we arrived to the bottom of a mountain range, the vehicle came to a halt. Tea time, I figured. They got out and we entered the tiny door for bread, tea and to play cards. I started getting worried as one man started to get changed and another fell asleep. Turns out this is where I get off – right at the bottom of the mountains. They offered for me to stay the night but there was still two hours of light left so I got moving. When I did so, they pointed to the setting sun and began howling like wolves – not overly comforting.
Tyre pressure right down, I made my way through the sand – making far more distance than expected. Soon, the notorious headwind picked up, so I headed to a mountain that looked like it’d keep me out of the brunt of it and headed over to set up camp.
The next morning was typical. A little riding, lots of walking up hills. Though I received a surprise reward for my efforts. After cresting some hills, I was greeted with the view of a giant lake, tucked into a valley of nothing but grass, goats, ducks and swans. After the ride the previous afternoon, I was low on water so this was perfect. I jumped right in, enjoying the chilly water on my sand encrusted skin. I read my book while my tea brewed. My stomach sank when I took my first sip – it was a saltwater lake – heartbreaker. This ruined my mood, so I packed up and began to ride on the waters edge rather than on the soft sand. Unsurprisingly, there were plenty of carcasses around – they must have also fallen for the same trick I did. It took four hours (and more stops than I could count) to get out of the valley. I could see the next town in the distance – I meer 30km away. Looking at my speedo, I saw that I’d managed only 26km thus far. I worryingly checked my water to see that I had just 1.5L remaining, meaning in the previous 36hrs, I had consumed 7.5L. The temperature was over 30 in the day and around 25 at night – that wasn’t going to last.
Understandably, I was scared. This was the first survival situation I’d ever been in and it seemed almost surreal. I had spent the afternoon trying to rest with as much of my body curled under the knee high shrubs, or if I was lucky, a waist high rock – just to try to reduce the intensity of the heat.
I barely slept due to the stress of the day ahead. Dinner took about 600ml of water – I knew I’d be useless without food so I made the sacrifice. I woke up several times throughout the night to my mouth feeling more dry than the desert I was stuck in. I awoke at 0430hrs to try to make some distance before the sun gained it’s strength. I ate a single raw carrot, the only food I had that didn’t require cooking, and began the ride.
Within the first few hundred metres, I noticed an eagle soaring overhead. I am fascinated by these animals so got fixated by its gracefulness. This was incredibly dumb as I was riding on soft sand and fist sized rocks – an area where full attention to the terrain is necessary. I tracked her to the right, hit a rock and almost came off – ‘serves me right’, I said to myself. But I’d noticed something from my peripherals. I thought I’d seen green. Surely not, I was in the desert with no water. I double checked. Tucked away between two small hills sat a few metres square of lush grass. Unbelievable! I sped over, suddenly full of energy. There was something in the middle. From afar it looked like a well! ‘No way in the world’, I said out loud. I got to the structure and almost threw my bike down to check if there was anything inside. It was a little manky with bugs and a strange reflective film on the surface of the water but other than that it looked clean. I can’t tell you what I said to myself at this moment, for fear this article won’t be published.
The next problem was that there was no bucket. There was a large pump for moving the water to troughs for animals and I made the (dumb) decision to climb in and use my knife to cut the old frayed rope. I attached my Nalgene to the rope via a Voile Strap and was able to scoop a litre out. I poured the icy water through my Buff in order to filter off the bugs and whatever other funky business was on the surface. The fact it was cold was a great sign – fresh spring water! The thought that this liquid may be undrinkable was still very present in my mind. I blasted the now clear water with the Steripen. That 90 seconds went forever. When I finally took a sip it was unbelievably refreshing. I could feel it trace down my throat, the cold instantly making me feel more alert. Another sip. Brain freeze. I wasn’t upset with that – beats the inescapable heat!
I had soon filled all nine litres, just in case I ran into some other unexpected troubles on the way to the town. My feet were on the pedals, ready to move when I got off, took my shoes off and lay in the grass. I still couldn’t believe it. It was like something out of a mad dream or crazy LSD trip.
The ride into town took most of the day. I was exhausted but a massive weight had been removed from my shoulders. I meandered through town, looking for a store where I could by my normal diet (purely due to lack of choice) of buckwheat, potato, carrot and onion. An old lady was sweeping the outside of her resturant – a never ending task when you live in a sandy desert with constant wind. She saw me and lit up with a beaming smile. She waved me over. By the time I got to her, she already had a bowl of tea waiting for me -steaming fresh from her floral thermos. I thanked her profusely and decided a nice cooked lunch was in order. I slumped onto the hard timber bench, rested my elbows on the plastic table cover depicting yaks and horses and drifted away to another world, awaiting my noodles.
The idea of cycling around Central Asia came from reading a book of a man who, completely on a whim, decided to follow the trail Ghengis Khan conquered – from Mongolia all the way through to Hungary.
The thought of the trip seemed incredible and adventurous. Maybe even romantic.
Out in the wilderness, just Tania, my red brick Surly Troll and I. We would ride through the mountains, the steppe and the desert. I would witness one of the last real nomadic cultures, who rely on nature for their own survival, as well as that of their animals.
That’s a bloody big change from the Northern Beaches of Sydney.
Arriving in Mongolia by train from Beijing was an experience in itself. The bus ride to the border was super lush with lay down beds onboard and stops at roadside resturants for cheap and delicious noodle bowls. The train from Zamiin Uud (border town) to Ulaanbaatar (capital of Mongolia) was an old Russian train with traditionally dressed up assistants, addressing patrons as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ in their broken English. It featured cabins like on the Hogwarts Express and the views through the Gobi Desert were an exciting yet terrifying image of what I was to endure in a few days time.
Purely by chance, I met three other cyclists in immigration while extending my visa. They happened to be going the same route I had intended through Mongolia so I tagged along with Chris, Maren and Ivan.
Thank God I met these people, as I may have considered quitting in the first week if it wasn’t for their presence and support – I’ll try to put the reasons into words.
The first two days were riding fresh laid tar with a tail wind – speeding our way up and down hills and smashing at least 80km/day. However, soon we entered the desert. The world that would be our reality for the next few weeks, whether we liked it or not. I consider myself to be a well travelled individual who enjoys being outside of his comfort zone, though never in my whole life have I experienced temperature ranges, wind, terrain and desolation like what I did here.
There were days on end of rough corrugations, soft sand and an unbelievably consistent and soul-destroying headwind, where, after a whole day of riding we would only make 25km. I could count on one hand the times in my life that my morale has been that low. Seeing how little wildlife was around also got on my nerves. It seemed for every animal that was alive, there were two or three dead. The stench of rotting carcass became the scent of this first week.
Nick does Kook tour
However due to having the others, keeping it weird on a daily basis ensured everyone would have a good day. Ivan, for example, kept talking about how heavy his bike was. He couldn’t figure out why he kept lagging behind on some sections. Was it his fitness? Did he carry too many luxuries? Or was it the three litres of home made Bulgarian alcohol and two logs of salami he had packed away to share amongst the group?
We found it to be far more efficient to ride in single file as to avoid the added pain of the wind. Each kilometre or so, the person in front would swap out. Instead of being boring and keep it to a whistle or yelling ‘yep!’, it was decided something creative was neccesary. There were all sorts of funny noises occurring but the best was Chris screaming ‘Rakija’ (the Bulgarian alcohol) at the top of his lungs, and Ivan somehow managing to get the bottle out of his pannier while riding to the front, giving everyone a drink along the way. That’s kook as – don’t drink and ride kids!
After about four days in the desert, we made it to a town – a massive relief as the hard riding and constant exposure to the elements had us eating like pigs and our food was getting pretty low. We went to the super market to purchase our diverse diet of either rice, millet or buckwheat as a base; maybe potato, carrot or onion as vegetables (often not available) and seasoned with a delicious sprinkle of salt. If we were super lucky, maybe the shop would have apples – exciting!
Coming out of the shop, we were left with the typical issue of where to cook in wind like this. We tried to avoid cooking in town as the locals all crowd around and by this stage we are already pretty tired. But this day, there was nowhere to go.
We stopped by a building, using the wall as a shelter so our stoves could cook more efficiently. Within a minute, a car had stopped with a gentle-looking old man getting out. There was the typical lost-in-translation conversation but then he kept saying ‘ger’ – the Mongol version of a tent that the nomadic (and all other people outside one of the four major cities) live in – while drawing one in the sand. He took us to his house, and as we entered through the tiny ‘Alice in Wonderland’ esqe door, we were surprised at how warm and cosy yet roomy it was inside.
His wife was in there, working away on the sewing machine, the kids glued to the TV, and our host busy getting the poo-fuelled stove started in order to brew is a salted tea for us (you read that right). He encouraged us to use his stove and utensils to cook but once we were all done, he wouldn’t let us leave. I called my Mongolian friend who lives in the capital to help translate.
This man was so concerned for our wellbeing, going out with the bikes in this weather – referring to me as the madman in shorts – that he legitimately thought we were going to die. Hence, he was trying to make us stay in order for us to live another day.
I had made jokes about this trip being of great risk before I left, but it was definitely an eye-opener when a tough local is so concerned.
The next day, we were on a bus to Altai after our host explained that the next water was 270km away and the terrain was harder than what we were riding when making only 25km per day. I watched worriedly as Tania got strapped to the roof of a Soviet-era minivan and we got going. At first it felt like cheating, but watching the dust storms engulf the van, and feeling the wind push such a vehicle through the soft sand, made me sure we had come to the right choice.
From Altai, it was still rough, however things were changing. Now, not all the animals were dead on the side of the road. There were camels – with two humps that wobble like an obese man’s belly when running, goats, sheep, plenty of wild horses and majestic eagles and falcons soaring overhead.
There was one afternoon, where, over a steamy brew, we were all checking out the map. We sat in silence, confused, as it showed there was a river coming up soon. Not believing the outdated charts, we kept riding against the wind with no expectations.
Suddenly, we crested a hill and turned a corner and Maren started yelling. Down, nestled into the valley, there was what seemed to be something similar to an oasis. A patch of bright green grass, about 1km x 1km, sat next to a rushing stream. Instantly, energy levels went sky high.
Crossing the river was the first of the excitement – too deep to ride through and almost too wide to jump across. Shortly after, the shoes came off and we were able to enjoy the lush turf under our toes. Heads dunked into the hair-raisingly cold water was refreshing in a way I can not describe.
We set up the tents and began to prepare dinner, when the wind stopped and Mother Nature gave us the most beautiful sunset. Every divet of the surrounding mountains was illuminated in a burning orange, with a near full moon rising over the animals grazing on the pasture. It was one of those beautiful moments when you realise this is an image that will stay with you forever.
Riding into Khovd was definitely an exciting experience as one of the first things we saw was the giant Russian supermarket. This is a significant change from the tiny roadside stalls we had had the past few weeks. Excitement levels were high, as we had choice of buying a range of goods that we would expect from the corner store at home, but are a luxury over here.
I had almost finished shopping when something caught my eye. I couldn’t believe it, was it true?! Surely not, I must be going mad! I rubbed my tired eyes and checked again. There was red wine of the shelf – an indulgence that I didn’t expect to experience for a long time indeed. In my typical style, I picked up the cheapest bottle and damn near skipped out of the supermarket with joy. Wrapped in a fleece and carefully strapped in my basket, we headed to Cai’s house – a WWF volunteer who had kindly offered us to stay at his for the night.
We went via the bazaar to grab ingredients for tonight’s feast – we had an oven! Veggies were purchased to roast when I smelt the strong scent of the free-range Mongolian meat. The meat market was next door! This was a real experience – meat and offal on the tables, with old ladies sharpening their knives or grinding meat in the hand-turned mincers. A little blood was on the floor and the heads of the animals were at the base of the table, both a good measure to prove the produce was fresh. At just $4.60/kg, some mutton and goat was purchased to add to our meal. The combination of having a roof over our heads, with a homecooked meal, a mug of red, good tunes and better mates was a very welcome change.
Over the next period, nights would continue to be cold, though the wind stopped blowing so hard and finding rivers became more regular. Each night, there were visits from locals, whether that be the livestock, or their shepards, trotting in on horseback. They stand back, sipping from the bottle of vodka they inevitably have hidden in their robe. They are surprised at how we have chosen to live – touring by bicycle – then even more shocked when they see the solar panels, water purification devices, cameras and other electronics we are carrying.
I am often left wondering whether they are aware of what the rest of the world is like. Do they know and choose to maintain their simple, traditional lifestyle, or are they oblivious (through no fault of their own) of how so many others are living?
The further we went west, the steeper the hills became. There were a number of long stretches that we were told would be a tough slog due to the soft sand. To our surprise, a half constructed road of varying levels of readiness was there, closed to vehicles, however easily accessible with a bike. Although we had to get off every few kilometres due to drainage still being in construction, it was much faster than the alternative option.
Soon enough, these roads ended and some of the up hills felt like trying to climb a vert ramp in a skate park, but on a fully loaded bike and in the sand. The addition of roadworks and mining trucks zooming past with no warning didn’t help the situation.
On the crown of the mountain, we were met with the view of glistening, snow covered mountain ranges, contrasted against the purple and maroon highlights of the Mongolian geology. The best news came when Chris informed us the next 10km would be downhill, however on some very rough terrain.
For some reason, this set a fire off in me. I tend to be a cautious rider, however I plugged in some banging tunes and absolutely sent it. I sang at the top of my lungs, while weaving around potholes that could swallow my tyres, speeding up to skim over sand patches, and even hit a dirt mound that resembled a jump, leaving Tania (weighing in at 58kg) and I gliding through the dusty mountain air. The rush I felt at the bottom, being left completely out of breath, with a beaming smile, was really something special.
As I write this, I am sat alone, at Achit Nuur, a freshwater lake, a day and half ride from the city of Bayan-Olgii. I have since split with the others as they are continuing their journey through Russia whereas I’ll head down through Xinjang in China. Before commencing the journey to the border, I made the choice to enjoy some time alone, to relax and do absolutely nothing for a day or so. It started with an almost instant invitation into a ger owned by a family of eight, for tea, bread and aruul – a local snack.
While the tea was brewing, the 94 year old man and his seven year old grandson insisted on seeing my knife – a common practice in Mongolia. While I was happy with its condition, the man was obviously not impressed, as he pulled the small fruit knife out of his boot with one swift movement and cu a piece of paper to shreds. Before long, he had taken a large stone from his pocket and began roughing up my blade ti it it was slicing his arm hair with the lightest touch.
While this is most definitely one of the Toughest experiences of my life – it is also one of the most rewarding. The landscape I am immersed in now is like a painter’s colour palette with blinding yellow straw and grass so bright it almost looks artificial. My ears are constantly filled with the deafening hum of bugs, with the dull crunching of livestock feeding on the grass, or birds of prey diving to pull fish from the water. It’s the real life David Attenborough experience you’ve always dreamed of. And I’m lucky enough to be sitting here, with a tea in hand, watching time go by.
David Cragg, our favourite original dad. Fully sponsored Kook and builder, creator of the biggest backyard ramp mansion.
We had a little ‘might-have-to-get-rid-of-ramp’ arvo party down in Wollongong – home of the big BMX mansion. Where big names (probably) but I don’t remember any of them came down to make use of the ramps – before maybe having to dismantle the masterpeice. It was good. Some dood took a big ol spill taking all the weight of the fall to his right cheekbone. See vid below – after gallery.
James and Jesse’s Fly Fishing – Bike Packing – Siq ass tour
Int. Kook Exchange Program is damn pumped about supporting Kook ass tours. James and Jesse are rolling out next week on a soul finding, work flicking, mate making, bike packing, fly fishing expedition. They going to give us a weekly round up. Expect kute snappies, stories from the road and pics of fish! Ride on bois. We are stoked for you….Wish we were there!!!
Here is James, spinning a tale of why work place safety is no fucking joke, telling us about his trip and his sk8er mate Jesse – who made the right choice.
Words From James;
Well I used to work in a cabinet shop building custom furniture and stuff, and I was milling some old pine that had a nail in it and it made the wood jump and my hand slipped and got pulled into the machine. It took all five fingers on my dominant hand, It happened 4 1/2 years ago now. It’s definitely taught me patience haha.
For the route, Jesse and I plan on taking back roads from Reno to Klamath falls Oregon, from their were gonna be hoping onto the Oregon outback trail and riding north.
We plan on taking our time and fly fishing along the way up. Once we get to Portland we’re gonna rest for a day or two, then start riding down into Boise. I have two friends that plan on meeting up for a week and will be bringing my two dogs out for some good times in the outdoors!! Our route is kinda wherever the road takes kind of thing but we are trying to end it in Leadville Colorado.
I’m doing this trip cause I need it mentally, and I feel the road will cure it.
Jesse and I are both skateboarders/artist and both only have bikes for transportation. We grow up together out here in Reno skating. Jesse actually quit his job for this trip, his job found out through Instagram he was gonna do this and they told him either quite and ride or stay and work. He quit hahaha “
We got a collection of images here of Serena @rad_rio and her @crustbikes Evasion; that brass voice, the hella skills on the bike, the bright smile – If you got a ride with Serena planned you know its gonna be a good day. We exchanged a few photos of @_captainsassypants_ for some fresh off the press Kook Socks. Serena in her habitat. So beautiful.
She inspires more women to get on bikes. She inspired us ride harder and faster. She inspires the internet with her posi vibes.
I wrote a piece for the Radavist after we all got back. See the whole article here on the Radavist or find just the words below with some extra images that didn’t make the cut.
“ Touring plans can be dismantled on the fly and made better, sure there is glory in the hard yakka, but when you are out for two weeks, just looking for the good times … Chase the rainbow and good trails. Turn off that path if it looks rosier, you’re on holidays! That’s what the #crustvantour did, and boy did we find the rainbow.
We set out to ride half of the east coast of Australia. From Brisbane to Sydney over the month that Kurt and Raymond were in town from America. Half the crew riding on Crust Bikes, it was a Crust Tour after all; a step through extra small hot-pink Evasion, an eXtra cycle converted Evasion, a Crust Romanceür, and a fresh burgundy Scapegoat that Kurt was riding. The other half of the crew riding a Surly, a custom Moustache build, a pub bike and Jones bike. We can’t all be Crust lucky.
We were a crew of 8, Marcel and myself – Sydney; Matt and Cheech – the perfect couple; Rick and Daniel – Brisbane’s finest and Kurt and Ray – bringing the international American flavour. We set out from Brisbane, 8 bikes loaded into 2 vans. Cyclone Debbie has rampaged through the first half of the route. So we skipped it. We drove nearly 400km south to Crescent Head, soaking in the flavours of Australia the old fashioned way, pit stops into pie shops.
Kook Exchange on the Gram
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We use 100% biodegradable shipping bags and keep as plastic free as we can not just for Mother Nature Month but always. WIP